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A president’s odd choice

the United Nations (UN) was starting in New York. A statement from the Presidency said he was going to Saudi Arabia on the invitation of King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, and that he was scheduled to hold talks with the king in the course of the visit and participate as a Special Guest of Honour in the opening of the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

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Yar’adua’s preference for Saudi Arabia puzzles many who feel that the UN meeting was the place to go for an opportunity to interact with other world leaders for the benefit of the country. They wonder why he opted instead for the opening of a Saudi Arabia-university at a time universities across Nigeria were shut down because of a strike by lecturers.

To be anywhere outside New York last week meant that the President had to turn down the respective invitations of US President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Both leaders had been expecting Yar’adua to address the UN General Assembly.

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Yar’adua detailed his Foreign Affairs Minister Chief Ojo Maduekwe to be at the UN for him, meaning that the country would miss the slot and possibilities for presidents.

Beside an avenue to address the Assembly, the summit, informed sources confirmed, would have enabled Yar’Adua to campaign with other presidents for Nigeria’s election into a non-permanent seat of the UN Security Council. The election to the seat is billed for October 15 and Nigeria needs 128 votes, the two-thirds majority requirement that can guarantee any country’s election into the Council. Maduekwe cannot help here because in this unique forum, only presidents talk with presidents.

By turning his back on the UN, Yar’Adua missed an opportunity to meet Barack Obama. Yar’adua was expected as a major participant in the unprecedented meeting of US President Barack Obama on the opening day. Obama was the host of a lunch for heads of state and governments from sub-Saharan Africa, a luncheon which focused on how the United States could work in partnership with African governments to strengthen African development. Besides, Obama was to meet with presidents whose countries contribute troops for peacekeeping around the world. He was believed to be reaching out specifically to Yar’Adua in view of Nigeria’s dominance in contribution to peacekeeping in Africa. US Ambassador Susan Rice who spoke on the UN meeting the week before it started said  Obama would be hosting a meeting with countries that contributed the largest numbers of police and troops to United Nations peacekeeping operations.

She had said, “This is an opportunity for the President to focus attention on reforming and strengthening UN peacekeeping for the 21st century and to recognise the largely unheralded contributions of those that are providing the backbone of these critical peacekeeping operations.”

Apart from being the 4th ranking UN nation in troop contribution, Nigeria is also the leader of the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping. Knowledgeable sources explain that Yar’adua is actually the beautiful bride of the Americans whose interests are often hurt by restlessness around the world. The US is concerned about Somalia and other crisis-ridden African countries and desires that a more robust UN peacekeeping force be deployed. Obama was said to be waiting to discuss with Yar’adua in this regard. It would have been an opportunity, analysts say, for Yaradua to negotiate Nigeria’s own interests directly with Obama.

Now, why would Yar’adua not attend the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly? The Presidency said that he was going to Saudi Arabia on the invitation of that country. Why would the Saudi invitation be more vital than that extended to him by the UN?. Because no convincing reason exists, speculations now rent the air.

Knowing how Saudi Arabia has come to be linked with his health, many have long concluded that he went over there for an opportunity to see his doctor. Some are saying he dodged the UN Assembly in York to keep away from critics abroad who will want to know from him why he has done ‘so little’ since he became president two years and four months ago. Some add that he is afraid he could get the Aaondoaka treatment and be made to flee his hotel room by New York-based Nigerian protesters who could insist on definite assurance that he would sit up and be the president they expect to have at home.

Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) is angry that President Umaru Yar’adua travelled to Saudi Arabia for the second time in less than two months just to witness inauguration of the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. It is worried that his absence from top international diplomatic functions is causing a steady decline in Nigeria’s international standing.

Secretary General of Pro-National Conference Organization (PRONACO), Chief Sam Onimisi who spoke to Sunday Trust over Yar’adua’s absence at the UN General Assembly said it was a sad irony that Nigeria which was lacking in international goodwill would miss an opportunity to make friends from across the globe.

Chief Onimisi who is also the national secretary of Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA), said, “Early in the year the G20 met and we were not invited. Yar’adua was full of lamentation that he was not invited. Now the UN is meeting and he is not there. I don’t know why he chose Saudi Arabia except he wants to attend to his health. Clearly, his not being in New York to present the mind of Nigeria to the rest of the world through the UN Assembly is a huge minus for Nigeria. We are choosing willingly to let the world feel that we are irrelevant, which is disheartening.”

A government official who spoke on the issue said Yar’adua made decisions all the time in the best interest of Nigeria and that his not being at the UN for the 2009 General Assembly could not possibly do the damage that some Nigerians were suggesting.

Professor Bola Akinterinwa, the Special Assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, told Sunday Trust Thursday during an interview, “Three weeks ago the Minister of Foreign Affairs went to Brazil, a country which shows particular interest in helping us overcome the problem of energy. Last week, Maduekwe went back to Brazil. The repeated trip leads from Yar’adua’s determination to meet the 6000 megawatts target by December. Yar’adua asked Maduekwe to go back to Brazil to finalise arrangements and to stop over in New York for the UN Assembly. The logic is that while Maduekwe is in New York to protect the interest of Nigeria at the UN Assembly, Yar’adua can be elsewhere for the same purpose of pursuing Nigeria’s interests.”

The UN has six main committees through which it discusses details of issues raised at the summit session of the General Assembly. The main committees include the Disarmament and International Security; the Economic and Financial Committee; the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee; the Special Political and Decolonization Committee; the Administrative and Budgetary Committee; and the Legal Committee.

Professor Akinterinwa, a foreign affairs specialist, author of several books on foreign relations, and a newspaper columnist, said nothing vital would be lost by Nigeria, especially since it is involved in the committees of the UN which constitute the actual working aparatus of the organisation. He clarified, “The Nigerians representing Nigeria at the committee level are foreign service officers who will ensure that nothing said or done is inimical to Nigeria’s interests. It is if we are not in the committees that Nigeria will lose.”


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